The 2017 track & field season will forever be seen as one of the best in school history. No other group of athletes have embraced the team aspect of a very individual sport quite like this year’s squad. Since the first year of the track & field program in 2007, Woodward Academy has a long tradition of excellence in the sport with a couple state champions (’07 and ’14) and team district championships (’11 and ’14). Neither of those things happened this season, but this year’s team rewrote the school record book in more ways than one.
“Overall, this was a really fun group to coach. What makes this team different than past years to me is their attention to detail in perfecting what they did. Whether it was a handoff, a hurdle, warming up for a race, or how they come out of the blocks, this team was very specific with how they trained and prepared for events,” said Head Coach Shaun Mohon. This team adopted the theme of “meet the standard,” and the team really pushed themselves and their coaching staff to embrace it every day. “This group ran with the theme and you could see it throughout their workouts, meets, and in day to day life as track athletes.”
By mid-April, the hard work in practice was starting to show dividends in meets. The team got their first win of four, which tied a school record, at Central Decatur on April 11. They followed that meet up a week later with their second win at Van Meter. The winning pushed this team even harder in practice and they rallied around each other. They knew their end goal was to compete with the best in the state.
Senior Ammari Johnson was already one of the best in the state. As a rare two-year track athlete, Ammari qualified for the state meet a year ago for the Knights in his best event: the high jump. This year, he transitioned straight from basketball, arguably his best sport where he led the team in nearly every statistical category and now owns several school records, into track & field. At the first meet of the season, he tied his personal best jump, and at the next meet broke that along with the school record when he jumped 6’3″ at the Iowa State indoor meet. He would go on to break his own record one more time at the state qualifying district meet when he launched over the bar at 6’5″ to set the new school mark.
Royzell Henderson was the most consistent sprinter this season. Coach Mohon loved working with him because not only was he very “coachable,” but he would never make excuses, complain, or find a reason not to perform at a high level. Eli Rudie led the throwers this season and spent countless hours with Coach Ruiz, working on technique, repetition, and lifting workouts to increase his explosiveness. It paid off when he threw a shot put 51 feet and destroyed the previous school record by over a foot.
According to all the coaches, Jeremiah George was the pulse of the team and a leader in every sense of the word. “He was the hardest working, and one of the most positive kids on the team who was always pushing himself and his teammates to be better,” said Coach Mohon. Known as “JG” across campus, Jeremiah instinctively knew the leadership balance of when to be the voice of the team and when to let others shine. “He [JG] was able to get other students to show individual leadership at their own levels. Not everyone is going to be the lead dog, and JG allowed every member of the team to have ownership of it,” said Assistant Coach Jason Anderson. He backed up his leadership on the track as well, particularly in his signature race: the 400 meter hurdle. He set, broke, and re-broke his own school record on 3 separate occasions, including at the state meet when he ran 56.34. Coach Mohon encapsulated JG when he said that “he was always proud of his team, his work ethic, and the way he performed as a track athlete. He was proud to be a Knight.”
When the calendar turned to May, and the end of the season approached, the Knights kicked it into full gear. They won their third meet on May 4 at Marengo, with an impressive 205 point performance. The next day, May 5, the Knights won their fourth meet in Ogden and were looking as good as they have all season.
There was never a true turning point in the season, just a gradual climb toward their true potential. The team peaked at perhaps the most important meet of the year: the state qualifying district meet. In Iowa, all participants at the state meet qualify on this day, giving athletes one shot to compete at the highest stage. The first and second place finishers in each district automatically qualify for state, with the rest of the field being determined on time. The coaching staff saw their team peak at the right time. “This team was the most prepared we have ever been going into a district meet,” according to Coach Mohon.
As the results were mounting, the potential for a historic evening was also on the rise. The Knights automatically qualified in seven events: winning five events (distance medley, high jump, 400 hurdles, 4×100, and 4×200), and finishing second in two events (4×400 and 800 meter). As a team, the Knights finished in second place, only 26 points behind the district winners and eventual state champions. The next day, once the official results were calculated across the state, the Knights qualified in 3 additional events, setting a new school record with 10.
The Iowa High School State Track & Field Meet is annually held at the historic Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. This year’s three-day meet was mostly cold and rainy, but that did not stop the Knights from performing well. Competing against the state’s best, the Knights scored points on JG’s 8th place finish in the 400 meter hurdles, and behind the 4×100 teams’ huge personal record that allowed them to finish in 7th place.
The evidence of a historic season is in the numbers. The Knights won 4 team meets, set 6 new school records, and qualified for the state meet in 10 events… all school records. Coach Mohon concluded that “this team had more pride than any other I can remember. That pride combined with their work ethic created the results for this season.” GO KNIGHTS!